Spathiphyllum - The Peace Lily
A Leaf for a Flower?
The genus Spathiphyllum, otherwise known as Peace Lilies, are evergreen herbaceous plants in the Araceae, or aroid family. While not true lilies, these plants do produce beautiful inflorescences consisting of a white leaf-like spathe and a knobby or bumpy spadix, on which the true flowers are found (see thumbnail picture at right). The medium to dark green foliage contrasts well with the blooms.
Peace Lilies are sometimes called "spaths", especially by nursery personnel or growers. Most of the species and varieties available on the market have white blooms, although a few with light green blooms can be found. Plants with green blooms are usually grown for their foliage value rather than for their flowers. Other bloom colors are conspicuously absent in this genus of plants.
The majority of spaths that you will find for sale are hybrids of large species crossed with smaller species, producing just about the right size plant for indoor or interiorscape use. A good number of hybrids have been produced over the years. Some growers will produce their own hybrids so they can give them names that distinguish their plants from the rest on the market. An old standby is Spathiphyllum 'Mauna Loa', a larger growing hybrid that has been around for decades. Newer plants, using Spathiphyllum wallisii as one of the parents, are much smaller growers with darker green shiny leaves and tolerant of lower light conditions. Some of the newer varieties have leaves splotched or mottled with white and creamy green variegation.
A condition of indoor air pollution known as "sick building syndrome" afflicts many people who live and work in closed, air-conditioned structures. The push for greater energy efficiency has also resulted in the rise in incidences of this problem. The main source of the situation is poor or no mixing of the indoor air with outside air (ventilation). Fortunately, you can help yourself if your home or workplace seems to have this problem. Spathiphyllum is one of the favored plants for helping clean up the stale air in poorly ventilated buildings. Keeping a spath or two at or near your desk at the office will not only liven up the look of your workspace, but will actually make it a healthier place to breathe. These plants will remove airborne toxins from the air and contribute oxygen in return.
Peace between you and your Spath
Peace Lilies can do well in low light situations such as are found in most office environments. They come in different sizes so you are sure to find one that is just right to fit your space. An occasional gentle misting or wiping of the leaves with a soft cloth and clean water will help keep your Spath happy. A half-strength fertilization with a soluble nutrient mix such as Miracle-Gro once every two weeks should work fine.
One piece of advice to keep the Peace - don't ever let your Spath dry out! Spathiphyllum plants come from tropical rainforest environments and actually thrive in very moist or wet soil conditions. Because of this, drying out is a severe stress and can result in irreversible damage or the loss of the plant. At one point, on learning that Spaths could do well in swampy circumstances, I placed a potful in a tub of water deliberately to see how it would do over time. The plant thrived, only needing for me to change out the water once or twice a week to keep it from getting smelly. If you choose to do this yourself, I suggest not only changing the water a couple of times per week,but allowing the old water to drain out, pouring some fresh water through the soil before replacing it in the tray or tub with water.
Image credit: Public Domain
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